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Immortal Dreams Published Novel Part 1 of 10
‘A journey of hope is better than any destination.’
To live without aspiration is to be waiting to die. Without a dream there is no chance of fulfilment. Someone who has a dream will only know true happiness if that dream comes true. You can either go after that dream with all the intensity you can muster and risk the bitterest of disappointments, or shy away and spend your life trying to convince yourself that you are happy. To dream and hope of something that may seem beyond your abilities is not to encourage failure, as the only way you can fail is if you don’t pursue your dream to your limits. If the chances of a dream becoming a reality are a million to one, then there is a chance. It is not the odds that discourage most people, but the work required to overcome them. Otherwise so many lottery tickets wouldn’t be bought. Yet the only time success comes before work is in a dictionary. Nothing truly worth achieving can be done easily. Anyone willing to commit to the work required to strive for greatness, especially in the face of derision or criticism from weaker souls, deserves much respect. Greatness isn’t a destination, it’s a journey.
To aspire to, dream of, hope for, crave, hanker after, seek out and endeavour towards greatness, then pursue it unwaveringly with tireless vigour, is itself as good a definition of greatness as any.
I wrote that passage when I was in a particularly defiant mood, during one of the many times I’ve been alone with my thoughts over the last few years. Since leaving school I had four years doing a few different jobs, and then I decided on a change and enrolled at my local university. As English Universities go the one I went to isn’t the grandest or the one with the most prestige, but it was good for me. Another student described it as having a happy, holiday camp feel to it, a conclusion she came to after her open day visit. That feeling was a major factor in her choice to go there. My use of the words “go there” reiterates the fact that it isn’t one of the most upper class educational establishments. Had I said “study there” then I’d be talking about one of the big city Universities, had I said “read there” then I’d be talking about the Oxbridge brigade. Whether I’ve been working or at university neither has ever been near to being my main priority in life. Without wishing to steal the great Dr Martin Luther King’s words, I have a dream. That dream is to play professional golf at the highest level and if not become a great player then certainly hand out a few beatings to the two or three that might play in my era. As a twenty five year old who’s never won a county championship amateur or even played in a national championship, I admit the odds are against it. But if I wanted an easy life I would have stayed in one of those run of the mill jobs. Instead I planned to go over to America, play professionally over there and find out just how good I can be.
I had been hoping for a little more Sport Psychology learning from my degree, but it turned out there wasn’t that much of that. With all that time in between shots and nobody forcing you to play a shot until you are ready, golf is one of the most psychological of sports. Concentration does not come natural to me, getting down on myself can be all too easy, as can getting angry, all of which can be of severe detriment to my performance. Only one person has ever made me angry, me. Golf means so much to me that getting angry at poor results isn’t surprising, but I know it has a detrimental effect on my performance so it is up to me to control it. My inner dialogue after a bad shot often goes something like this; ‘Okay forget it, focus on the next shot, you can’t do anything about it now, whatever you do don’t get angry, don’t get angry, I said don’t get fucking angry! (At this point the offending club would be slammed into the ground or another act of similar petulance would occur) I can’t believe you’ve let yourself get angry, how could you do that, you IDIOT!’ Whilst I can’t envisage ever getting my ice man exterior image up to Bjorn Borg’s standards, I’m constantly working on calming myself down. Negative thoughts keep coming at me but I am improving at vanquishing them, all these mental aspects are a work in progress.
Going to university did have another advantage, the social aspect. A student talking about the social aspect probably creates the wrong image, as I don’t drink alcohol at all and my appearances on a night out were rare to the point of being coveted. I am actually referring to the interaction with the other students. Helped me to take my mind off golf, total obsession twenty four seven wouldn’t do me any good. Lots of people who I found very easy to get on with, if only on a trivial level, and a couple of really good friends whom I intend to keep in touch with. I achieved an average mark of around fifty-seven, giving me a ‘two-two’ degree classification. Should I have got a ‘two-one’? Probably . Could I have got a two-one or even a first? Definitely. However I was happy enough with the mark, where there is no passion there can be no disappointment. Throughout the three years, lecturers told us that all we can ask of ourselves is, that we put in one hundred percent effort. Whilst I agree with the sentiment I maintain that no more than one percent of students anywhere can honestly say they have even come close to one hundred percent effort. After all you can always read one more page, or revise for an exam for one more minute or read through an assignment one more time before handing it in. The more people I meet, the more I realise how lucky I am to have anything in my life that I am truly passionate about, to the point of obsession. A tiny amount of people have feelings like that about anything.
After finishing our exams virtually all the students arranged one last big night out as a group, so big in fact that it would start in the early afternoon for most of us. I’ll start my story with that social excursion, as for me I look at that point as being the one where I graduate from the school of life and enrol in the school of dreams. Having dreams brings either ecstatic joy or agonising despair.
The sun beginning to set was our signal to finish with the well organised barbecue and enter the student bar, for what for most of us would be the last time. People drank the mind altering liquid and sucked on the slow working suicide sticks. During the get together there was plenty of time for everybody to speak to whomever they wanted. Topics of conversation were generally split between reminisces and talk of future plans. I prefer to talk about the future than the past, but the past is always easier and on a night like this it seemed appropriate to join in wholeheartedly and unashamedly in much recalling of the many humorous moments from the past three years. Throughout the night people were allowed to go up on the stage and use the microphone to speak to everybody at once. As the night wore on and the alcohol intake continued to grow the appearances on stage increased in frequency and in emotion. Despite my trademark sober state I took the chance to speak from the stage.
‘I just want to say that over the last three years I’ve come to think of you all, and I do mean everybody in this room,’ I paused and convincingly fake being slightly choked up. ‘As people I went to the same university as!’ A rowdy chorus of mock boos. ‘What?! It’s clear that you can’t handle the truth. Seriously lads and ladies stay out of trouble and try and do something worthwhile.’ I casually tossed the microphone to the DJ and jumped off the stage, headed back to where I had been sitting for most of the night. At the table with me were the only two people from university whose phone numbers I had. I preferred to have a small number of phone numbers of people who I’d always like to call, rather than a mass of numbers of people who I didn’t really like talking to that much. Will was the sort of chap you couldn’t dislike, rarely had a bad word to say about anyone and didn’t do anything that was obviously annoying. The only thing that bothered me about Will was his lack of ambition, but he seemed happy enough. Sometimes it’s good for me to talk to someone about down to earth and trivial matters, even I can’t be a great thinker and philosopher all the time. Anya was virtually always fun to be around and I found her wonderfully easy to talk to. Much like me she was a free spirit who desperately desired to do something interesting with her life. For this summer at least she was going to America to do some tennis coaching. She will enjoy that and be excellent at it, but it’s more of a stop gap and a scouting mission, whilst she thinks of what her next major step in life will be. Anya wasn’t on the sports course with Will and I, she had consistently been goaded by me for taking the “easy option” of a business course. She had managed to get a first class degree and was clearly the most academically inclined of the three of us. Her conversation skills were fantastic, from the first time we met we were always able to talk on a vast array of topics from the deep and meaningful to the wonderfully trivial. Anya’s coaching job was in California and although I’m planning on being thousands of miles away in Florida I’m glad I’m going to have a good friend in the same country.
‘Good speech,’ Anya greeted my return.
‘I liked it, you know you’re an exception to my comments honey.’
‘No I’m not. I am somebody who you went to the same university as you.’
‘Very sharp, I love to have you around to keep me mentally stimulated.’
‘It can get boring talking to these dumb witted humans all the time.’
At this point a gang of lads came over to talk to anybody who would listen, each of them extremely intoxicated.
‘Hey Jack are you still going to pursue golfing fame and glory stateside?’ One of them said, in what was surprising eloquence for him, even had he been sober.
‘I am indeed. I’ll leave the impressive alcohol drinking, shagging around and general wasting of life to you guys.’
‘We’ll drink a pint for you when we see you on TV winning five hundred grand for winning the Open,’ he attempted subtle sarcasm.
Anya felt the need to speak on my behalf. ‘It doesn’t matter whether it’s winning five hundred grand for winning the Open or five hundred dollars for finishing fourth in some Florida mini tour event, the point is Jack will be living his dream.’ She captured my spirit perfectly.
‘Whatever. Hey Anya you can’t turn me down for a dance on tonight of all nights.’
‘I wouldn’t want to ruin my perfect record in those stakes,’ Anya bluntly replied.
‘Let me translate it into your language; you’ve got more chance of shagging the Queen.’
‘Still frigid after three years,’ he said and then walked away with the rest of his boozed up mates, each of them swaying as much as walking.
Being drunk had never washed with me as an excuse for any type of bad behaviour, but over the years I have learnt to let a few things slide. As Anya wasn’t the least bit bothered by the guy’s remark I didn’t take issue with it.
‘If you turn a guy down you’re either frigid or a lesbian, which would you rather be?’
‘Can’t I be a frigid lesbian?’
As much as we all tried to use this night as one last chance to mingle with a mass of people we had shared experiences with over the last three years, as the night wore on we found ourselves congregating into our own familiar cliques. It takes a person with the strength of a long haired Samson to survive this world without the support of others, let alone achieve your dreams. As I sat around a table with Will and Anya I was sure that they would both play a part in helping me win my mental battle over the coming years. For the last hour or so of the night they both, not unexpectedly, became drunker, so as conversations started to lose their zest we finished the night with one last dance session on the union bar dance floor.
The following day I went round to the room that during term time for the last three years, Anya had lived in and made her own. Although it was the middle of the afternoon, it must have felt like early morning to Anya. She answered the door, still wearing what she had been the previous night and looking very bleary eyed.
‘Loving the new look,’ I said just after she opened the door. ‘Always said you should try something different with your hair.’
‘I see you’re going to make the most of your last chance to be annoyingly sober the day after a uni night out.’
‘Always wondered if it was possible to sleep walk and talk at the same time. Seriously I love the hair, it’s such a unique style and screams of defiance and not being dictated to by society.’
‘Get in, sit down, shut up and let me down a can of coke. Then we can start our emotional farewell discussion.’
I followed Anya’s instructions, even handed her a can of coke from her fridge before sitting down in a deck chair.
‘So are you really not going to the graduation ceremony?’ She asked after gulping down the can in one go, as she sat on her bed.
‘No, I’m not hanging around any longer, wasted too much time already. Besides that gown and hat look wouldn’t suit me.’
‘It won’t suit anybody.’
‘At least you’ll all look ridiculous together.’
‘That helps a little. So what’s the rush to get stateside?’
‘By getting there for the beginning of July it give me a little over four months to acclimatise and get some competitive experience, before entering the tour school.’
‘That’s the tournament you have to win to get onto the tour for next season?’
‘Don’t have to win it, just finish in the top forty, but the higher up you finish the better, because that will make you eligible for more events the following year.’
‘This is the tournament you reckon is the most pressure you’ll ever be under.’
‘Definitely in a way, because I’ll be playing for my future, failing in a regular tournament only affects that week but failing at tour school affects the entire following year. I’m sure coming to the last hole of a Major tournament with a one shot lead, or needing to hole a putt to win the Ryder Cup would be nerve racking in a way no one could ever imagine, but it would be a different pressure, with the whole golfing world watching you. Being in either of those situations would mean that the chances are you’re reasonably established as a player and financially secure for the next few years at least.’
‘Don’t mean to be negative, but what happens if you do fail?’
‘Won’t be the end of the road for me, I want to give myself a few years at least. If you narrowly miss out on the big tour, then there is a second tour you can get a spot on. The prize money is nothing like the same and I wouldn’t be sharing fairways with any superstars, but it is a nation wide tour and just like on the main tour each event is four days and only the top seventy or so players survive the cut to play the last two rounds. Missing the cut means no pay cheque at all. It’s proved to be an excellent training ground for future success.’
‘Any if you flunk out completely? Sorry, hangovers make me negative.’
‘I know, no offence taken. Even then there are plenty of mini tours over there for me to play on. The entry fees of the players generate the prize money and if you are good enough you can earn enough to live off, but the main thing is it keeps you sharp and hopefully improving for your next attempt at tour school. Plenty of players will take failing at tour school to be the queue to give up and get a “real” job. Although I’m happy to earn my stars on tours like this, I will have to start winning money fairly soon. I’ve saved up enough money so that I could not win any prize money up to the Tour School, and still be able to afford the entrance fee for that. From then on though I will have to be earning a living somehow and I’d much prefer it to be from prize money than from bar work or servicing golf buggies.’
‘Have all those overtime hours been worth it?’
‘There’s definitely no way I’d have been working all those extra shifts, every bank holiday, New Years Eve and Christmas Eve for the last three years or so, if I hadn’t had something I desperately wanted to save for. Without an end product in sight, it would’ve been difficult to do most of those jobs at all.’
‘Yeah I don’t think of it as wages, more as compensation Do you have to go to Florida? You can’t come to California with me?’ Anya checked one last time.
‘Trust me honey, it was seriously tempting to base myself in California, just so I’d have a great friend nearby. But from the research I’ve done the mini tours in Florida are better.’
‘Fair enough, as long as you’re not avoiding me.’
‘Of course not, it will be great to have a friend in the same country, we can keep in touch and share thoughts on American idiosyncrasies and see if they are the same on opposite coasts.’
‘So are you still looking forward to it as much as you have been for the last three years? Or now it’s virtually upon you are you getting nervous?’
‘I’m as excited as a kid in a candy shop, on Christmas day who’s just found out he’s going to Disneyworld and when he gets back they’ll be a puppy waiting for him.’
‘Sounds excellent, no nerves or worries at all?’
‘Oh hell yeah, so many questions are going through my head. Will the American courses suit my game? Will the lifestyle be to my liking? Will I find any new friends? What type of on course character will I be when I join the professional ranks for the first time, a poker player type ice man or a hot head that would build a reputation for being a “volcano”? Will I handle the pressure of the notorious tour school and get a PGA Tour Card or even a second tier tour Card? Would moving to America turn out to be the best or worst decision of my life?’
‘So many questions.’
‘I’ve decided to answer them all the same way: I don’t know, but I’m going to have a lot of fun finding out.’
‘We’re here for a good time, not a long time.’
‘Be wary of criticising anybody in an arena of aspiration, just by being in that arena they have absolved themselves from the harshest of all criticisms: that of being someone who doesn’t aspire to anything.’
For my first few weeks over in Florida I didn’t want to be playing any competitions. I wanted to take my time to acclimatise to the playing conditions and the lifestyle. My first couple of nights were spent in a motel, then as planned I bought a motor home and was ready for life on the road. The Orlando area has a high density of golf courses, so I decided to base myself around there. One course, Deer Island, about fifty miles outside the tourist area was perfect for what I wanted for those first few weeks. It was as quiet as a library and out in the wilderness, so despite being a top class course with fantastic practice facilities, it was never close to being busy. For four weeks I spent my days there. Generally my routine was; hit balls on the driving range for a couple of hours in the morning until the sweat was dripping off me, have a shower, play eighteen holes, have a shower, then practice my short game for the rest of the afternoon. The club professional was friendly with me, he was somewhat of a veteran and I think he liked my ambition. His name was Rupert and he had plenty of stories to tell about many years as a club professional in America. Even though he was past sixty he was still pretty handy on the course and managed to beat me on the putting green a few times.
In my second week at Deer Island I met another employee of the club. When I first saw her she was working as what is affectionately known as a “cart girl”. These young ladies drive round the course in golf carts with lots of cold drinks and sugary snacks, they tend to be as amicable and hospitable as you could possibly imagine anyone being, and are almost exclusively gorgeous. One day the temperature was scorching and even my typical vast supply of ice cold water was looking a little sparse by the time I was half way down the twelfth fairway. This was when Miss Sunny Calendar rode into view.
‘I’m sorry I didn’t think anybody would be out here in this heat and humidity. I was just sitting around the bar when Rupert told me there was a good looking, English professional out there. So I flew out as quickly as I could.’
‘Oh yeah I saw that guy earlier, I think he’ll be on the fourteenth by now.’
‘Modesty I like that,’ Sunny had both the classic characteristics of a cart girl. ‘Why on earth are you out here in the middle of a day like this?’
‘Always try and make practice tough, the competition should be the easy part. That’s my theory anyway.’
‘Sounds seriously dedicated to me. So whereabouts in England are you from?’
‘Warrington, in between Manchester and Liverpool.’
‘That’s the northwest right?’
‘An American with a sense of worldly geography?’
‘Stunning isn’t it?’
As there was no one else on the course Sunny had no obligations for the next couple of hours and she drove around with me for the last seven holes. She had just finished a golf scholarship at Florida State University and was taking a little time to consider what she was going to do with the rest of her life. Although obviously an accomplished player she didn’t see herself playing professionally, honest enough to admit she felt she didn’t have either the overload of talent, or the immense drive and determination, to carve out a playing career. She’d graduated with a good degree classification in sports psychology, and she enjoyed that subject greatly, so she would like to work in that field. Born and raised in North Carolina she now feels just as at home in Florida. During the hour and a half we spent together it became clear that we shared a similar sense of humour as well as our passion for golf.
One day I varied my routine by starting my round at about nine o’clock after hitting just twenty balls or so.
‘Hey Rupert, is it okay if I tee off now?’ I checked if the first tee was clear as he practiced his putting on the immaculate practice green just outside his shop.
‘Go for it Jack , a young lady is about to go out and play but she’s the only one around. She’s become somewhat of a regular over the last week or so. Looks a decent player.’
At this point a stunning looking, gorgeously tanned, athletically slim, yet still curvy young lady walked past, wearing a vest top and short shorts. After she had gone past us I mouthed to Rupert the word ‘wow’.
‘Is that her?’ I asked quietly.
‘She sure is good to look at ain’t she?’
‘I’ll just check if she wants a playing partner today.’
‘Just to be sociable.’
I managed to catch up with her as she parked her buggy by the first tee.
‘Excuse me do you want to join up for the round?’ I asked her as she was bent over reaching into her golf bag on the back of her buggy. She pulled out a pair of stylish sunglasses, put them on and looked up at me.
‘Oh yeah I’d like that,’ she replied happily with an accent that I could guess at but only because I thought I recognised her.
‘Gorgeous accent, do you speak English well?’
‘Thanks; and yes I can speak it fluently. By the end of the round you might wish I was mute, I do talk a lot.’
‘Talk all you want, I’ve not had much social activity over the last few weeks. You’re Darla Van Der Wolfe aren’t you?’
‘Oh wow, it’s always good to be recognised.’
‘Belgian tennis player just broke into the top twenty in the world, aged about twenty and just reached the last sixteen of Wimbledon, left handed, stylish player a good shot maker and touch player, maybe a little volatile temper.’
‘I didn’t think anybody outside Belgium knew me that well.’
‘Don’t worry, I’m not stalking you. I’m just a massive sports fan with a good memory.’
‘I’ll believe you. I’m guessing you’re English.’
‘Good guess. I’m over here starting out as a professional, I’ve only just got over here and am using this place as a practice base for a few weeks while I acclimatise.’
‘Oh okay, I hope you don’t mind playing with an enthusiastic amateur like me.’
‘As long as the company is good I don’t mind how good the player is.’
‘You’ve certainly picked a great place to play, I love it here. I’m just spending a few weeks here as I take time off before building up to the US Open.’
‘It is a great place to play golf, actually it’s a great place to be anyway even without the golf.’
The course and the surrounding area had the air of a wildlife reserve. Many tropical birds soared majestically in the sky. You learnt to be on the look out for snakes, and the alligators meant that looking for balls in the water was definitely not a sound idea, no matter how expensive the ball.
Darla turned out to be a useful golfer and we had a great time, sharing a buggy on the way around. I offered a little advice but only when asked. After the round we both hit the showers, the heat was always in the nineties at least and humidity was consistently around the one hundred percent mark. This climate meant that you always felt like having a shower, even just after you’ve had one. Darla and I then had a meal from the clubhouse, sat on the shaded patio area and the fans above us meant that there was always a pleasant draft.
‘So what are your plans for the rest of the year?’ I asked as we munched on the complimentary bread.
‘I’m playing one tournament in preparation for the US Open and after those two events I’m going to take a few months off to reassess a little.’
‘Some long term thinking?’
‘Yeah. I’ve had a couple of seasons out on tour now and I’ve established myself as a decent player. But when I was a kid I didn’t have too many dreams about being a decent player.’
‘The pursuit of greatness, I just love that.’
‘Really gives you a sense of purpose.’
‘That’s what I kept trying to tell people back home, in a way it’s not the achievement but the striving that is the greatness.’
‘I’m going to do some striving this winter. I’ve decided to work excessively on my aerobic fitness and speed. I’ll never be as powerful as most of the top girls but I can become the quickest and most durable on tour.’
‘Plus you’ve already got the best hair,’ I smiled and Darla laughed. Her hair was mousy brown, a little wavy and just above shoulder length, with pink streaks alternating with blonde throughout.
‘Seriously though that fitness and speed will be a good way for you to combat those power hitters, by making them hit a lot more shots than they want and are used to.’
‘That’s the theory. If nothing else I can say that I’ve tried something to make the step up.’
‘Exactly and if it works out, whilst you may not beat them all the time you might beat them some of the time. Ideally you’d get to the stage when players will hate playing you because you’ll be that annoying Belgian one who just keeps getting the ball back and won’t go away.’
‘That’d be good. Along with my variations of spins and angles I could become a seriously annoying opponent. The only technical thing I’m going to work on over the winter is my serve. Got to make the most of that leftie serve, if I can hit it that five or ten percent harder then I think it will make a big difference.’
‘It’s such a key shot, a bit like putting in golf. If you’re playing badly but putting well you’ve still got a chance, you could be struggling with the rest your game but if you’re serving well you can stay in the match.’
‘Yeah it needs to be reliable, it’s difficult to hide from serving badly.’
Sat on that patio for two or three hours, the laid back Floridian lifestyle was to both our likings. Our lives were mostly lonely pursuits of dreams and whilst we were happy with those pursuits it was good to have somebody similar to talk to. Swapped phone numbers so we would be able to help each other along the way. Sunny joined us for half an hour or so, I introduced the two ladies to each other and they got on fantastically straight away. Darla was more than happy to get any psychological advice from Sunny, who was happy to be asked for any such advice.
Those four weeks at that golf club were most enjoyable and very useful as a practice and acclimatisation base. No golfer could ask more of the facilities and I had them virtually to myself. Unlike back home, summer is actually the quiet season for golf in Florida, as it is just too hot to be comfortable. Its climate means that all year round golf is very plausible. Whereas in Britain playing anywhere from October to March can often mean wearing enough layers to do a Michelin man impression, still being cold and wet, and course conditions that don’t even remotely compare with the same course in the summer. As well as the golf, there was the relaxed bar area where Sunny worked and we often had long chats in there to while away the evenings. Rupert in his shop was a constant source of interesting stories of times gone by and how the game has changed during his years of loving it so much. As well as the club itself there was a small local cinema and a mini mall that meant I wasn’t completely cut off from the rest of civilisation.
In the two weeks that Darla and I regularly interacted on and off the course I felt that I already knew a lot about her. An emotional character, who would always let you know what she was feeling. The good thing was though that although her mood swings were frequent and steep, she never stayed down for too long and her over all attitude was so upbeat and positive. She had started playing tennis when she was eight and her parents actively encouraged her to keep playing, without ever being tyrannical. Other than the dedication to tennis and the sacrifices that necessitated, Darla had a regular upbringing as an only child to a very happily married couple. In many ways Sunny is the opposite of Darla, whilst on the surface she is bubbly and optimistic, the more I talked to her the more I detected a hidden depression. A lot of the time when she talked she was in her cart girl role of being happy and being a good conversationalist, saying what the other person wanted to hear. However once you spend more that just a brief few moments of social interaction with her, you learn that she rarely shows you a glimpse of her true emotions. During some of our late night talks I caught glimpses of the real Sunny. When I could get her to talk for long enough there was a definite sense of disillusionment and pessimism about the state of the world. Anytime I asked her about her past she either talked around it without ever really telling me anything or bluntly ignored the question. I can’t help thinking that there is something she’s not telling me that has gone a long way to shaping these character traits. Despite her generally being so composed and together, I worry there is a darker side to her that leaves her on the edge of a place she doesn’t want or deserve to be. Sunny, what aren’t you telling me?
Darla’s last day before heading up to the North East to begin her tournament preparations for the US Open, turned out to be the day I had scheduled as the last practise day before going to play on the mini tours. Sunny joined us that day on the putting green and the three of us enjoyed some light hearted competition. At one point Darla hit a short putt that swerved alarmingly and just managed to stay out of the hole. She dropped her putter, fell to her knees and hit her head with her right hand, a la Homer Simpson. Although it was a genuine reaction it was also served to be a very entertaining piece of behaviour for Sunny and myself, who afforded ourselves a little giggle.
‘Just a thought Darla; I really don’t think poker is the game for you.’
Later on I hit a long putt that finished a disappointing distance wide of the hole.
‘You did actually mean to hit it there didn’t you? I mean it was a miss read,’ Sunny spoke confidently.
‘You called it, I thought that was going to break to the left.’
‘With your stroke and my eye for reading greens we could be a dangerous combination.’
‘Are you offering to be my caddy?’
‘I’ve actually been considering it since last Thursday evening.’
‘Poker might well be the game for you then, you are very difficult to read.’
‘Not as difficult as these greens are for you to read, by the looks of things.’
‘You are so good at steering any conversation away from any sort of deep area.’
‘I know, and I thought the English were the mysterious introverts and the Americans the brash extroverts,’ Darla commented.
‘Trust me you don’t want to get inside my head,’ Sunny used a tone that was friendly, but still kept Darla and I from pushing the point any further.
Later that evening, after Darla had gone off to catch her flight to New York, Sunny and I chatted seriously about her being my caddy. She candidly talked at length at what she considered were the strengths and weaknesses of my game. Technically she saw no flaw worth worrying about in any aspect of my game. Instead she saw the areas for improvement as being in terms of tempo and balance as well as working on my touch around the greens. She acknowledged that all top players would continuously work on improving their touch but she just wanted to make sure that I was aware that I could save a lot shots and money, by making such an improvement. The consistency of my long shots made her feel that I always had a chance of being competitive but she fairly pointed out that both my driving and shots to the green needed to sharpen up in terms of pin point accuracy, if I was going to hit enough excellent shots to live with the professionals. Sunny really liked the way I had worked on staying calm on the course but felt my decision making skills were still a little poor. The one thing she wanted to improve the most was my habit of getting down on myself too quickly, letting my confidence be damaged when it mattered most – out on the course. She made a special point of telling me of her admiration of my long-term confidence in my ability to play at the top level. I didn’t need any convincing to accept her as my caddy. Ever since I’ve dreamt of being a professional player I’ve always wanted my caddy to be someone who was one of my best friends, and Sunny seemed perfect.
As I set off on my quest I promised to keep Rupert up to date with my progress, and Sunny and Darla looked to be fantastic friends to have. Some people have dreams of great things, whilst others stay awake and achieve them. I can dream with the best of them, now it was time for me to wake up.
‘Hope and fear go hand in hand, hope of achievement simply must bring fear of failure.’
I’ve never been one to be offended by bad language. Use of expletives being responded to by saying “that’s the most disgusting word”, has always amused me, my vote would go to genocide or holocaust. Although if I could confine one word to room 101, to make it personal to me, I would have to go for any version of “realistic”. Was it realistic to invent the aeroplane? Was it realistic to run a mile in under four minutes in 1954? Was it realistic to put a man on the moon? Was it realistic to run two hundred metres in 19.19 seconds? Was it realistic to climb Mount Everest? Was it realistic to win the Tour De France seven times in a row after having had cancer? Was it realistic to expect the British soldiers in the trenches to agree to a game of football and no killing whilst it was Christmas day? Was it realistic to score two goals in stoppage time in the European Cup final when you trailed 1-0?
I wasn’t quite sure why Sunny wanted to be my caddy, but there was no way I was going to be looking anywhere near that gift horse’s mouth. We decided to give it a couple of months and see how it was working out. My motor home was just about big enough for both of us to enjoy life on the road. Sunny made me aware that there are better places to be playing mini tours in August and September than Florida, where the heat remained ridiculous. She assured me that there were enough mini tour events for me to play in North Carolina in the summer. So I would make my professional debut there. My practice time had gone brilliantly. I had never played so much golf every day over such a time period. My swing felt well grooved and my scores on the course had generally been steadily coming down. The greens being that much faster than back home hadn’t taken much getting used to. One aspect I had a problem adapting to was how the ball would react when playing a shot out of the thick grass that was found around the greens on so many of the American courses.
I have to admit it was a little daunting thinking how far ahead the elite level of the game was from where I was starting. But I’d definitely rather be at the bottom of a ladder I want to climb than half way up one I don’t. Any time I was feeling a little down on my own golfing prospects I would try and raise my spirits by reciting the phrase, “a big shot is just a little shot that kept shooting.” All I’m trying to do is manipulate a small white ball around a big green field in as few a strokes as possible, and there’s no earthly reason why I can’t become as good as anybody else at that.
Before putting my foot on that first rung Sunny took me to meet a couple of her college friends who had been on the same golf scholarship. They arranged to meet for an evening meal. No fancy restaurant was required, just the good old favourite ‘Shoney’s’, where the all you can eat buffet was taken advantage of by all four of us.
Before the meeting Sunny had filled me in on her character profiles of her two friends. The three of them had come together almost by default as none of them had fallen into any of the cliques at university. Sunny described Adam as a classy player who needed to work on being a classy person. She didn’t dislike him but found his extreme confidence often over bearing and somewhat staged and false. Over the years she had found herself dressing him down, telling him that a lot of hard work is required for him to take his place at the top of the game. Jenny on the other hand created a completely opposite impression on Sunny. Although no more naturally gifted for the game than Sunny, Jenny had an inner drive that Sunny found hard to comprehend. Her practice sessions were unrelenting in their frequency and duration. Sunny often had to make Jenny aware of the value of rests from practice. On the course Jenny was as prickly a competitor as Sunny had ever come across, off the course Sunny couldn’t have wished to have made a better friend. The two of them had helped each other through their tough times and bad moods. Sunny found Jenny increasingly easy to talk to as their friendship grew. Both Jenny and Adam were planning on making it as players and were both heading to their respective tour schools at the end of the year. During our meeting which lasted around three hours or so I formed similar opinions on the two of them as Sunny had done. Jenny reminded me a lot of Anya, she was easy to talk to and didn’t take herself too seriously at all. I actually found myself getting on well with Adam, although I had one of those slightly awkward feelings I get when I find myself getting on with somebody I didn’t like as a person. I didn’t know him well enough to dislike him, but I just had a feeling that in the long term Adam and I would have some personality clashes.
‘No boyfriend yet Sunny?’ Adam bluntly asked when there was the slightest lull in the conversation towards the end of the evening.
‘Why? Why must you pursue that?’ Sunny spoke with an intensity that I had never seen from her before, she left for the rest room but not before giving Adam a steely glare that certainly should have made him think twice about bringing up the subject again.
‘The winner and still “most likely to say something annoying” champion of the world,’ Jenny was clearly furious with Adam. ‘Adam, I would class Sunny as my best friend and she doesn’t even talk to me about that stuff. I don’t know why but I do know that I’ve learned to let her have the privacy she obviously requires in that matter,’ Jenny spoke calmly despite her fury.
Upon Sunny’s return to the table, the conversation slipped back into its previous lively and jovial manner. When we had finished with the table Sunny gathered our money together and went to pay. Jenny took the opportunity to take me to one side and have a word.
‘Look after her okay. She appears to be as tough as they come but I get the feeling there’s something about her that means she needs looking after. She’s got my phone number and you make sure she rings it frequently.’
‘Hey, we’ll look after each other and I’ll make sure you are kept up to date with her life. You just concentrate on tour school, but don’t forget to have some rests between practises.’
‘Plenty of time for sleeping when you’re dead.’
‘Oh I like you already!’
On only my second day in North Carolina I entered my first event as a professional. It was a mini tour that Sunny knew all about and she was a great asset when it came to officially entering the events and getting to know the organisers. Many different types of players play on golf mini tours. However all of the players tended to fall into one of three categories. The category I was in was the players who were setting out on their professional career and were using mini tours as a very useful training ground. Another category was that of the mini tour veterans, these were experienced players, some of whom had main tour experience. Whilst they were never quite successful enough on the main tour, they were still good enough to make a decent living on these mini tours. With the prize money on mini tours coming purely from the entry fee of the players, the third category was welcomed by the other two, even if they didn’t particularly like playing with them. This category was essentially enthusiastic golfers who had more money than sense. Some were capable of the occasional round good enough to win some money, whilst others were always making up the numbers. As I was new I realised that all the other players, particularly the better ones, would be keen to find out which category I fell into. So the first few rounds would be important for me to establish myself as a serious contender.
My first shot as a professional player was a strange feeling. Ever since I decided to join the paid ranks, I had to convince myself that I shouldn’t try and play any differently just because I was a professional. The best way for me to play the shot when I was an amateur, was still the best way to play the shot. A long par four was to be my opening hole without amateur status. A generously wide fairway meant that I was decisive about taking the driver off the tee. The key to my swing is always its tempo and that’s the only thing I want to think about whilst on the golf course. I managed to clear my mind on that first tee and produce a reasonably smooth swing, a seven out of ten sort of effort, that found the fairway about 270 yards out. Although my calm exterior probably belied it, I did feel apprehensive and tight virtually throughout that round. I didn’t make my first professional birdie until the fifteenth hole. Finishing par, birdie, par meant that I managed to get the ball around in a one over par 73. That was enough for a tie for twelfth, which was the last place that received any prize money. I won $60 and the entrance fee had been $75. Despite making a loss on the day, I looked at it as a success, I now felt officially a professional golfer as I ha d earned my first pay cheque. Besides a $15 loss was a lot better than a $75 loss. The strong finish to the round as always increased my satisfaction.
On these mini tours the players all rode in golf buggies and caddies weren’t allowed. They could ride in the buggies but only as spectators and weren’t even allowed the influence of driving the buggy. Sunny would ride round with me or walk around if there were four of us playing and no spare room in the buggies. After each round we would discuss my efforts of the day and assess how it had all gone.
I’ve lost count of the number of times someone has asked me why I like golf and what is so good about it. More often than not my love of the game is not eloquently put across, instead I stumble on a couple of sentences whilst finishing with something along the lines of ‘if you know what I mean’, whilst feeling strongly that I’ve not come near conveying and justifying my passion. Why do I like golf? The challenge, the sole pursuit nature, the mental test, character test, the patience, the satisfaction, the pursuit of perfection that is tantalisingly theoretically possible yet so borderline impossibly difficult. What’s so good about the game? Virtually anybody can play it, the physically small and weak can beat the big and strong, when you look around for someone to blame all you need is a mirror, at one with nature, you can play on your own, yet any golfer could play golf with world number one Nick Benz and still play their best – there’d be no Federer serves to try and get a racket on or no Ambrose bouncers to avoid or Ronaldo step overs to remain un-mesmerised by, also how many sports do you get where a player calls a penalty on himself? More practice has lead to me falling more in love with the game, the slumps enhance my desire and motivation, and any sort of success is much sweeter when I know the hard work has brought it about. Just as there’s is nobody to blame for a bad shot, immense pride can come from any good play. If you cheat at golf you can cheat at anything. The ball is still, the holes don’t move, no person can interfere with your shot – it should be easy and you can take it personally when it doesn’t turn out to be easy. When you realise you have to keep your emotions in check no matter what bad occurs, you discover just how much control you have over the whole outcome of your game. It is just you. How did you play? In most sports that is a subjective question and it is up to you to assess your performance, you may have lost 6-0, 6-0 but played good tennis by your standards, or won but played below your usual standards. Anytime somebody asks me how I played after a round of golf, I always answer initially with a number; however many I went round in that day. That says everything about how well I played, only freak luck can be another influencing factor on your score apart from yourself and that happens so rarely it’s not worth considering. If somebody wants to know the details of my round then I’ll gladly talk them through it. But that two-digit number will always be the scale of my performance. Golfers at every level will tell you they shot such a score but actually played a lot better than that. Don’t believe them. If they went round in 84 than that’s how good they were, the fact that they should’ve gone round in 75 is irrelevant, they didn’t get the job done. How well did they play? Well enough to shoot 84. So after every round each player has a ready made assessment of their performance that is extremely difficult to argue with. All the time in the world is yours when you play a golf shot. How can we make mistakes? I’ve lost count of the number of times somebody has tried to excuse a footballer for missing an easy scoring opportunity by saying that they had ‘too much time to think about it’. Every golf shot has too much time to think about it. Sports psychologists refer to it as down time. Televised golf is put together so the viewer is almost always watching a shot being played, at times one ball has barely come to rest when the camera switches to another swinging vision of blurry metal. Nobody wants to see these great golfers walking around and waiting in between shots. Yet it is this time that decides the winner of these events. Before each shot how the player handles that down time has a massive effect on its outcome. Most good players will play the shot twice, no one else sees the first one. All sports are result based, it’s not what your capable of that decides the outcome, but what you do. Golf balls and courses don’t care who’s hitting them or going around them, if Bob the post office worker shoots a 68 and Benz shoots a 69 then Bob beats Benz, Bob was better than Benz that day. Consistency is big in all sports and it’s everything in golf. I am physically capable of hitting any fairway in the world, hitting every green in the world, holing any putt in the world. After shooting one of his many course records the great (and I use that word very scarcely) Ben Hogan went straight to the practice range. When another professional asked him why he was still practising after such a fantastic round, Hogan replied along the lines of “there’s no earthly reason why I can’t birdie every hole”. There in lies the addiction of the game of golf, its sheer performance measurability means that you can always try to be better. My immortal dream is to one day birdie every hole, even then I could’ve eagled some holes, hit some shots sweeter, thought clearer on a couple of shots. And if I ever did do it, could I do it again? Like an extremely intriguing riddle that has no answer and even though you know there is no answer you still can’t help wanting to get nearer to the answer. If all this has been too deep, complex and confusing for you just remember; all I am trying to do is manipulate a small white ball around a big green field in as few a number of strokes as possible.
Sunny thought that I had been a little tight on my professional debut, but acknowledged that was completely understandable. She was impressed with the way I kept my score competitive throughout the round and then the strong finish. Not being allowed to read my putts for me was extremely frustrating for her and she counted two in that round that I missed, that I would have almost certainly holed had she been permitted to caddy for me. Whilst ideally I would become a better green reader myself, I couldn’t wait to be playing in tournaments where Sunny could caddy for me.
We stayed in North Carolina for five weeks before heading back to Florida. In that time I played eight tournaments, varying in duration from one day to three, always playing one round per day. Seven of them yielded prize money for me. Overall I just about made a profit, but that first professional win had eluded me. Before making my debut, the pessimist in me had envisioned an embarrassing performance and feeling completely out of my depth, the optimist had envisioned winning my first event and going on to be the dominant force on the tour. As usual neither was correct, but I was definitely pleased with my start, without ever letting myself get anywhere near that ugly word of satisfied, almost as bad as realistic.
Life on the road was turning out to be fun. The motor home had two small beds, a TV, basic kitchen, toilet and just about enough room for the two of us. Of course there were inconveniences and arguments, but essentially both of us were phlegmatic and even when we argued neither of us lost control and were fully aware that it wasn’t that big an issue. Although I must admit that I was confused by why Sunny had chosen this life, even if only on a trial basis.
‘Why are you here?’ I asked one particularly dull early morning.
‘Yeah. I’d like to think it’s because you’re secretly in love with me and want to slowly work your way into my affections. However I fear that’s not even in the same time zone as the truth.’
‘Actually there is little particular reason why I’ve tagged on to you, but I’m not going to let you in on that just yet. The timing of that revelation could be critical, but I can confirm your fears.’
‘Cryptic, I like it.’
Feeling alone is I’m sure something that everybody knows. Feeling alone and being alone are two different things. You could be in a room with a hundred people and feel alone, there might be nobody else around for miles yet you might not feel lonely. My pursuit of golfing greatness has been a lonely one to a large degree. I even feel isolated from the friends I have made along the way. This isolation was always felt the most whenever the topics of nights out cropped up. Wherever I was, whoever I was with, the experiences everybody else seemed to have in common were boozy nights out. Never for one second have I regretted not being an alcohol drinker and socialising party animal. My clear vision of long-term success has always been strong enough for me to believe my sacrifices to be more than worthwhile. Although to be fair I don’t even enjoy the nights out that much, so I’m not going to claim too much credit for having the discipline to avoid them so often. Long term I like my character of being the ever so slightly eccentric loner, who never truly fits in with the crowd. But when I’m feeling down one recurring theme is missing that feeling of belonging that these people get from being intoxicated at the same time. None of them seem to realise just how boring their drunken stories are to someone who has never been drunk. Their actions aren’t even that interesting or fun at the time, it’s just that they think they’re fun because of the state they’re in. Most of them have this way of telling the story of their drunken actions as if it’s of great embarrassment for them to be telling me all about it. If they were so embarrassed why are they telling me and anybody who wants to listen? What they really think they are doing is telling people just how much of a part of the drunken crowd they are. It would be a lot easier and less boring if they all just came up to me and said ‘Hi, I got drunk last night and that makes me better than you.’ If they want to spend their money on damaging their short term and long term health, then that’s fine with me. Someone who has seen their own dream cruelly shatter in front of them and become a depressed alcoholic, then that story at least has a little of the tragic romance to it. A mass culture that celebrates mediocrity, champions self deprecation and worships weak wills and weak minds is billion light years away from my comprehension. Not only do these people throw themselves into this way of life, but a lot of them also mock anybody who opts out. Sad seems to have been redefined, doing something you enjoy and makes you happy, can now be described as sad if it doesn’t fit in with the mass culture. I don’t need artificial aid to feel in a happy state, yet this can cause me to be labelled as being sad.
I consider myself to be a reasonably good conversationalist. However it took me a few years to realise my key to being good, it was that the vast majority of people like to talk about themselves. Offer them any encouragement to enlighten you on their life and they will become loquacious. Also this is a good way of being secretive because you can have one long conversation or several short conversations with someone and they feel like they are getting to know you, but in actual fact you’ve told them almost nothing about yourself. Fortunately I like learning about peoples lives, when it’s not to do with drunken exploits, so this conversational tool is a fun one for me to have.
Over the years I’ve come to find ladies more than guys match my conversational variety. Sure I can talk about football or any sport with a similarly interested guy for hours, but when it comes to general and often trivial philosophy the ladies seem easier to talk to. It helped at university that they didn’t start half of their conversations with ‘I was so hammered last night’, even though that was sometimes the case, they didn’t seem the need to advertise their nocturnal activities.
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